Tag Archives: Paleolithic

The Slow Journey Of Wheel

800px-A_Wheel_in_Kudumiyanmalai_Temple
A Wheel in Kudumiyanmalai Temple. Source: Wikimedia Commons

It is not the wheel itself, but the problem of rotation that’s dogged our minds for thousands of years – John Lienhard

He must have first observed it in the wild, and many times during the Paleolithic (2.6 m – 10,000 ya) the much less strenuous movement of the rolling tree log; something that must have been puzzling and tantalizing while he himself was left to haul for example the prey that was captured hundreds of meters outside his dwelling.

Astonishingly, however, it was not until about 3500 BC that he was able to leverage his knowledge of the mechanics to invent the wheel for good. If that does not sound odd then consider the fact that the first stone tools were invented around 2.6 mya, the hand axes and choppers around 700,000 ya and as we already know (from the most important discovery of man part I), the evidence of the first controlled fire dates back around 1 mya. The paintings, sculptors, carvings and other prehistoric all flourished during the Paleolithic.

And yet, it was not until 3500 BC, 6500 years after the agricultural revolution that wheels were developed by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia. This is only 900 years before the Pyramids of Egypt were built. As Natalie Wolchover of Scientific American writes, “The tricky thing about the wheel is not conceiving of a cylinder rolling on its edge. It’s figuring out how to connect a stable, stationary platform to that cylinder.”.

Since being able to use wheels for transportation is one of the greatest achievements man has made, it is interesting to think that we lacked the successful mechanics for a staggeringly long time. Had it co-evolved, for example, with stone tools and art, several hundred thousand years ago it is certain that the world would be vastly different from what it is now, and most likely thousands of years ahead of where we stand today.

Bibliography

Natalie Wolchover (2012). Why it took so long to invent the wheel. Scientific American.
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-it-took-so-long-to-inv/

Wheel History.
http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/wheel.htm

The Evolution of the Wheel.
http://visual.ly/evolution-wheel-infographic

 

 

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The most important discovery of man (Part 1)

Let us start this blog with a simple acknowledgement that we are the most unique species on earth. The very act of questioning how we came to be the way we are is of such uniqueness that notwithstanding the never-ending quest for an unequivocal answer the question itself is a thing of marvel. It is unfortunate though that the society has programmed us to not question things; to accept the paradigms that are completely based on wrong assumptions and presuppositions; to be enslaved and surrender to work and education that destroys creativity and to live a lifestyle where there is a perpetual fear of being rejected and outcast by the society.

For today let us delve into quite possibly the most important turning point in the history of mankind for without it we wouldn’t be here in a million years.

The discovery of fire and

the taming of it

The early hominids must have noticed fire occurring in nature such as lightening and volcanoes. He himself must have been terrified of the fire that occurred in massive scale in the forest destroying everything before it. Overtime, curiosity played its part forcing him to look at the charred remains and wonder how it could protect him by keeping predators at bay if only he could procreate and destroy it at will. The quest thus was to observe nature, how she did it and then try to replicate. Until then the only way he could leverage fire was to capture it when it happened accidently in nature. For the first time in history he was taking a massive step forward that would ultimately change his destiny forever. And by trial and error he did it. He was able to create fire by friction between two surfaces e.g. by rubbing two flints or sliding back and forth a stick on a wooden surface.

The earliest known evidence of controlled fire dates back 1 million years in the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa near the edge of Kalahari Desert. Recently scientists have unearthed remains which when observed under a microscope reveal charred animal bones and plant ashes along with heated sediments such as ironstone. Our ancestors then would have been Home erectus, of the Lower Paleolithic age. However, not many scientists believe that the fire was controlled and this evidence has been considered one of big uncertainty.

The next known evidence comes from Bnot Ya’akov Bridge in Northern Israel where researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan found burnt artifacts dated between 690,000 to 790,000 ya also belonging to Homo erectus. However it is at Qesem Cave in Palestine that the most profound investigation regarding archaeological traces have been carried out that have confirmed that the Neanderthals tamed fire around 300,000 to 400,000 ya.

Fire changed everything. Besides providing light and warmth, it was a crucial means of defense from the predators. Activities were no longer limited to daytime. It brought about a change in their diet; food could now be cooked making them more palatable and digestible. So the digestive system got more efficient helping them grow stronger. It was equally useful to make stone tools and burn clay for making ceramic objects. A new trend of sitting around campfires and socializing was borne fostering the development of languages and communication skills. Huge areas of forests could now be cleared for settlements, which together with the Neolithic Revolution gave birth to the pre-modern and modern civilizations as we know today.

Bibliography

BBC News. (2004) Science and Environment. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3670017.stm

Discovery News. (2012) Archaeology. Retrieved from http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/human-ancestor-fire-120402.htm

Wrangham, A. (2003). Cooking as a biological trait. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology. 136(1): 35-46.